Fishing in Half Moon Bay: A Complete Guide

Jun 3, 2022 | 8 minute read
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Just 20 miles south of the hubbub that’s San Francisco, Half Moon Bay is like a whole other world. This charming little city is the epitome of a West Coast seaside town. It’s your gateway to the Pacific and life here revolves around the water. It’s no surprise, then, that fishing in Half Moon Bay is more than just a popular pastime.

Half Moon Bay at sunset with the sea on the left hand side of the image

And that’s why we’re here today – to tell you all why casting a line out of this beautiful vista is a must. From the beach, jetties, out in the bay itself, or further afield, Half Moon Bay has it all. And after a long day testing your strength against some stellar opponents in the water, you can have your catch cooked for you in one of the town’s famous seafood restaurants. 

Sound like heaven? You bet it is. Now let’s get down to business. In this guide, we’ll let you in on the stars of the show here, where to find them, and how to go about catching them. We’ll even cover regulations and a few other tidbits you may find interesting. After you’re done reading, we’re sure you’ll be reaching for your rod and reel. So here goes… 

What can I catch in Half Moon Bay?

Half Moon Bay is home to some of the nation’s most-loved fish. Tough-fighting, abundant, and delicious, there’s not much more you could want, right? Well, these fish have it all. There are two stars of the show, in particular, so let’s meet them and their supporting cast.

Salmon

Three anglers holding two Salmon each on a fishing charter in Half Moon Bay

Wherever Salmon live, they’re pretty much guaranteed to top every angler’s wish list. Half Moon Bay is no different. You may be surprised to hear that Salmon are so prevalent here, as they’re usually associated with brackish waters and around rivermouths, as well as lakes. Well, the shallow waters of the Half Moon Bay and out into the Pacific are, somehow, the perfect habitat for the Chinook variety of this species. 

Also known as “King” Salmon, these are true royal creatures. Known for their fighting prowess, they’re the most sought-after of all the Salmon family – and we’re sure there’s no need to mention their excellent taste. Get ready to test your strength against beauties reaching 15 pounds in weight, with two open seasons. Come between April and the end of May, or late June through October, and take advantage of this incredible fishery!

Rockfish

A group of smiling anglers back on the dock with their catch of Rockfish from a fishing trip

From March through the end of the year, anglers all across the San Francisco region go mad for Rockfish, and the shallow waters of the bay here are perfect for targeting these delicious creatures. Rockfish is not actually a species per se, but a collection of bottom-dwelling fish that offer plenty in the way of fun and meat. 

Unsurprisingly, you’ll find these creatures feeding along the bottom of the sea. But the good news is that they stay close to shore. That means a half-day trip will be enough to catch your limit of 10, along with the possibility of landing some from shore or a pier! They promise a real hands-on angling experience, suitable for anglers of all ages, and skill levels. Bring the kids and get ‘em hooked with these family favorites!

Crabs

Fishermen handling Crabs in Half Moon Bay

If you thought a fillet of fish was enough to whet your appetite, wait until you see what you can serve up as an appetizer! Crabs love the rocky terrain around Half Moon Bay and, when the season hits, families and restaurateurs alike head out in search of these tasty crustaceans. 

The season lasts from November or December through June, so there’s plenty of time to get your fill of these creatures. Of course, we recommend coming when the weather is a bit warmer and you can combine it with going after Rockfish and Salmon. After all, what’s a two-course meal without the main dish?! 

And More!

A group of smiling anglers holding a mixture of Striped Bass and Halibut in California

Well, we said there were two stars of the show, and Crabs are certainly a welcome addition to Salmon and Rockfish. But the fun doesn’t end there! Another delicious creature that calls these waters home is the Halibut. Smaller than their more northern “Pacific” counterparts, the California Halibut is more like a Flounder, living on the bottom and providing plenty of decent meat. 

Similarly, Lingcod swims in the same waters as all the above superstars. You’ve almost got the entire list of the most popular table fare in Half Moon Bay! And there’s more! Head a short ride north from downtown and Striped Bass are available. Another feisty fish with plenty to offer anglers of all levels, they’re the icing on the cake that is Half Moon Bay fishing. 

How to Go Fishing in Half Moon Bay

So you know what you want to catch, but how to go about it? Much like with the fish, two techniques reign supreme for those “in the know” in this delightful corner of the Golden State. If you’ve already been out on the water plenty of times, we’re sure you know what to expect, but beginners – read on!

Trolling

A fishing rod in a holder, on a boat, trolling, with clear skies and water in the background

If you’re heading out with a boat or charter captain, the opportunities are endless. Not only can you catch every species we mentioned above, but you can also have more lines than one in the water at the same time. How? By trolling! 

Trolling means dragging multiple lines behind the boat, with your lures mimicking bait fish that live on top of the water. It’s an effective technique to entice topwater feeders – from Salmon to Tuna. You’ll want to try different speeds and lures or bait depending on the species you target, but it always helps your odds of hooking what you want. 

Sit back and let the lines do the work, before you leap into action as you hear the reels screech. Head to the back of the boat with your rod in hand and get ready to do battle. 

Bottom Fishing or Jigging

A father and son on a boat with the father reeling in a fish in California

Looking for a more hands-on fishing method from the get-go? The shallow waters of Half Moon Bay are ideal for trying to bring in some fish manually. Whether you anchored up, drift fish, or cast from shore, bottom fishing and jigging are effective ways to influence your luck.

Bottom fishing is ideal for targeting bottom feeders – duh! You’ll drop your bait to the sea bed, dragging it along to mimic the prey of whatever species you’re targeting. This means it’s great for Rockfish, Halibut, and Lingcod. Just be careful of your hook getting caught or line getting snagged on the rocky bottoms!

As for jigging, it’s just as hands-on. But this time you’ll be pulling the bait up and down in a jigging motion. This also mimics bait, in this case dead or injured bait as it floats up the water column. Your target fish will think it an easy dinner and pounce when ready, so it’s just as effective. 

Kayak Fishing

Kayak anglers on the Pacific Ocean in California

While we said that the above techniques are the most popular in Half Moon Bay, as in most calm waters across the world, there’s a new method gaining popularity here, too. Kayak fishing in Half Moon Bay gives you the chance for a serious workout, while going after the same fish as you would from a conventional boat or from shore. 

Not only that, but kayaks can actually get you to spots that other vessels simply can’t. Options in Half Moon Bay include easy strolls within the jetties all the way up to a tricky battle against the elements out in the Pacific. Whichever you choose, you’re in for a fun day out and plenty of rewards, as you try trolling, bottom fishing, or jigging. Catches of up to 30 pounds have even been reported!

Half Moon Bay Fishing Spots

An angler casts a line from the jetty in Half Moon Bay, CA

No matter if you’re fishing with a charter, renting a kayak, or looking for the perfect shore fishing destination, Half Moon Bay has plenty of fishing spots to choose from. It was tough to narrow it down, but here’s our pick of the best:

  • Pillar Point Harbor. Booked with a charter? Chances are you’ll be heading out of this marina. Full of fishing vessels of all shapes and sizes, it’s the departure point in town. You’ll even find local fishermen on the dock selling their catch at a reasonable price, too!
  • North Jetty. Up for a DIY experience? The North Jetty protecting the harbor from the Pacific’s crashing waves is not for the faint of heart. Go after Crabs nearer shore, while the further out you go, the better the chance of Rockfish, Lingcod, and more. But beware, the surface is pretty uneven and the winds and waves can make for a treacherous adventure. 
  • South Jetty. Much like the North Jetty, the South Jetty helps protect the harbor, but it’s not quite as tricky to explore. Expect the same fish in the same spots, but it’s your line and not yourself you should be concerned about here. The rocky bottoms can cause damage to your gear, so make sure to bring spare tackle, especially!
  • Moss Beach. Just north of town, this is the last place you can fish before hitting the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve where fishing is banned. It’s a great spot to set up camp and cast a line before or after spotting the wonderful marine life preserved just minutes away.

Half Moon Beach Fishing Regulations

An infographic stating "Half Moon Bay Fishing Regulations – What You Need to Know" in white against a blue background with the California state flag and vector of a boat

We mentioned the open seasons for the fish above, but these are always subject to change. Check with the California DFW before heading out to make sure you only go after what’s legal. This also applies to bag and size limits, too. Keep in mind that Half Moon Bay is in the San Francisco area, so all regulations valid for there count here, too. 

Other than that, you should also purchase a California fishing license – unless fishing from the jetties that is. However, even if you don’t need a license, the above regulations still apply. Check out our handy guide to getting your permit, and you’re good to go! 

Anything else?

Surfers take on the waves at Mavericks Beach, CA

Before we let you go, we just wanted to let you in the other pastime that makes Half Moon Bay famous. Surfing! Mavericks Beach just north of the harbor and jetties boasts some of the biggest breaks on the West Coast. Enthusiasts from all over come to take on these great waves, and there are even some tournaments held here, too. There are no signs to get to the best spots, but ask any local and they’ll point you in the right direction. 

It’s not only pros who get to enjoy these waters either, though. Beginner and intermediate surfers are encouraged to try the smaller waves nearer the jetties. We suggest combining a surfing trip with casting a line. That way, you’ll get to see exactly what this town is all about!

Half Moon Bay: Small City, Big Everything Else

That just about covers it. By now, you should know that Half Moon Bay is a year-round destination, offering exciting angling action and much more. Test your skills during the day and indulge in the fruits of your labor by night. What could be better? All that’s left for you to do is come and try it all out for yourself!

And now over to you. Have you ever been fishing in Half Moon Bay? How was it? We’d love to hear all about your experiences in the comments below!

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